Diabetes mellitus (DM) is a chronic condition in which a deficiency of the hormone insulin impairs the body’s ability to get glucose (sugar) from the blood into the cells that need it. This leads to high levels of circulating glucose that cause the clinical signs of DM. These signs can include but are not limited to:

  • Increased thirst
  • Increased frequency of urination with increased amounts of urine
  • Weight loss despite a good appetite
  • Sudden blindness
  • Decreased appetite
  • Vomiting or acting lethargic

DM is one of the most common endocrine (hormonal) diseases of dogs and cats.

There are two types of diabetes mellitus. Type I DM occurs when the body does not produce enough insulin. This can be the result of destruction of the cells in the pancreas that normally produce insulin. Type II DM occurs when enough insulin is produced but something interferes with its ability to be utilized by the body. Dogs and cats nearly always have the type I variety, but it is possible to have both, especially with concurrent diseases such as urinary tract infections or Cushing’s disease.

DM usually affects middle-aged to older dogs and cats of either sex. Any breed can be affected.

Diagnosis and Treatment Notes:

Diabetes Mellitus is generally diagnosed by blood and urine tests. An effort should be made to diagnose and correct any other sources of disease as other diseases (such as periodontal disease) can make regulating a diabetic very difficult if not impossible. It is always advisable to culture the urine of newly diagnosed diabetics as the increased glucose in their urine makes them highly susceptible to urinary tract infections. These infections can make them resistant to the insulin they are given

Treatment depends on the severity of the disease, your individual pet, and your veterinarian. Treatment generally consists of insulin injections that are given one to two times daily for the rest of your pet’s life or for as long as the condition lasts. Oral medications can be used in some cats with this condition.

The most labor intensive and costly phase of the disease will typically follow the initial diagnosis. During this initial phase, the amount of insulin given is slowly increased over weeks to months, until the right dose is found. This is done slowly because it is much more dangerous for a diabetic to have low blood sugar than it is for them to have continued high blood sugar. Typically we will do glucose curves once every week to 2 until we find the correct dose and type of insulin that works for your pet.

You will be shown how to give insulin as well as draw blood (if you want to monitor at home). If you want to monitor your pets blood sugar at home, be sure to buy a glucometer designed for use in pets (Alphatrak etc). Be sure to have some corn syrup (Karo etc) on hand in case your pet has a hypoglycemic episode. If that happens, place some syrup on the tongue and head to the veterinary hospital.